Thursday, 7 December 2006, 11.30 pm JST
sotd: Tokio, そらふね
cotd: LY3P Mazda MPV 23T
So. The more time I spend abroad = the lazier I get at things like e-mails and blog posts. (For quickest and most efficient communication, leave me a message on Facebook. I will most likely respond to it in about two and a half minutes ^_^)
That being said, let’s try something different with this post. I realize and understand that some personal computers (like mine, for example >.<) might not be happy with a helping of one seriously picture-intensive web page, but since I am well over two months behind on detailing my exploits in Abe’s Beautiful Country (more on this in a future post), a quick summary catch-up is called for. So let’s dial back the text and enjoy Japan through the wonder of bullet points and pictures!
So picking up from where I left off and last time and continuing from the weekend in Kobe, that should by my calculations bring us to
5. Local Festivals!
So continuing along with the narrative, the next big event that happened for us was the August 23 and August 24 Narimatsu Festival in 氷上町 (Hikami-cho/Hikami Town, one of the six parts that comprise Tamba City). See, earlier we (we being the ALTs and therefore default foreigners of Tamba) had gotten letters and phone calls about attending the festival, dressing up in yutaka, and participating in the Bon dance as representatives of the Tamba City International Association. (Which, to be honest, I was surprised to discover such a thing way out here in the middle of nowhere.) So being the dumb foreigners we are, we amazingly all agreed to sign up–without any communication amongst ourselves. And it was fun. And that was only the first day. The next day, upon hearing I knew of the festival, 教頭先生 (kyoto-sensei, vice-principal, or literally education-head-teacher) invited me to come with him for the second day’s activities. Knowing that Dylan wanted to return for the second day and not having a ride, I asked kyoto-sensei if we could pick him up. No problem at all. And then once there we got to have festival food. I love festival food. Especially から揚げ (fried chicken). There were also fireworks. Because even Japanese in the most remote inaka love fireworks. Anyway, I will stop typing and show some pictures. ぜひご覧ください。(Literally: if it is no trouble for you, and if you can find some time in your extremely busy and important schedule to do so, please cast your honorable gaze upon these despicable and worthless excuses for pictures.)
August 24, 2006 marked a very important day for my life in Japan. This was the day I could finally return to Tamba City Hall after two very long weeks of agonizing waiting. . .to pick up my much-needed 外国人登録証明書 (the aforementioned Alien Registration Card). So in the morning Taniguchi sensei and I once again left school in his spiffy red Peugeot 206 to head over to the city hall and retrieve the card. From here we went over to Honda Auto Yamashita in 柏原町 (Kaibara-cho/Kaibara Town, another of the six parts of Tamba) to sign a rental contract for my car. (Those who know me well, fear not. There will indeed be a whole separate post devoted to the mechanical wonder that is my car.) After a quick lunch at Skylark Gusto Family Restaurant (not kidding), we went over to the NTT DoCoMo shop in Kaibara, which is sadly the closest one. After an hour-and-a-half long procedure of me *mostly* understanding what the associate was telling me, I walked out with a new Japanese phone plan and a spiffy new N902i mobile phone. In blue, of course. And then that night I got to the festival that I mentioned above.
7. Let’s enjoying bowling!
And then every single JET in Tamba and Sasayama met up for a healthy night of bowling before school started. With purple shoes. Pictures:
On September 1, the new semester officially began. Which of course in reality meant that the kids all showed up for a 2-hour long assembly (始業式 or Opening Ceremony), went back to their homerooms to clean and then got to go home. This also meant that I was obliged to give a speech, seeing as I was the school’s newest teacher, and more importantly, the school’s new ALT.
My speech went something like this: “Good morning. My name is Chris and I am the new ALT here at Hikami High School. Maybe I look Japanese, but actually I am not Japanese, so please speak to me only in English. I come from Hawaii but I am very happy to be here in Japan. Let’s please have fun learning English together and let’s be good friends while I am a teacher here.” It was a 30-second speech that took at least 5 minutes to deliver.
Of course, I’m sure this is what the students heard: “Goo- mo-nin-. Mai ne-mu izu Chris akfjfjsldfjsdlfjjkfdsiofjf Hikami safjlkdsfiew. flksdfsfj;lkjsfifu Japanese safdsfjoiafjaeoifweojfew Japanese asfjdoifurhjoihfoif English. afjgohwoief Hawaii sfjoishgiofjoifj iewjfoiwef Japan. Let’s afjsoafeoiwf English askjfsdfi let’s kjfdoijgowenowe te-cha- sjfdljf.”
Not to stereotype or anything, but I’m roughly 80% sure this is how they heard my speech. And then I got to kick back and relax while the teachers systematically hand-checked each student for hair, nails (girls only) and uniforms. Oh, Japan.
9. Driving R175 (Not 175R).
So after that momentous big day in school, another big momentous event happened. I made my first long-distance drive in Japan. As always, on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. It doesn’t take long to get used to, but it’s still weird, yes. I drove all the way from my place . . . to Kristine’s place! Although we’re both located in rather odd places within Hyogo Prefecture, luckily there is a road that goes straight through both our cities and which I can cover in anywhere from 60 to 80 minutes, depending on traffic and the time of day. It is called 一般国道175号 (No good translation of this. I would say National Road No. 175 for Regular Cars). Although it’s not a particularly major road and certain parts of it are in slight disrepair, the fact that it goes from Maizuru in Kyoto Prefecture to Akashi in Hyogo Prefecture makes it a national road and not just a prefectural road. And 175 and I are probably going to become good friends in the next couple of years.
So the next day, Saturday, was spent in Osaka, the first time for Kristine, and the first time for me in a long time. Granted, most of our day was spent at Yodobashi Camera looking around at gadgets we don’t need and then me setting up Kristine’s phone plan. It was mentally exhausting. We had crepes afterwards to celebrate while waiting for the phone to be set up. We afterwards walked along Midosuji (the street, not the Osaka Municipal Subway line that runs underneath it) over to Keihan Yodoyabashi Station and ate at a little Japanese restaurant inside the 駅ビル (station building). When I remember, I’d like to go there again sometime. After all the fun and excitement of the day, we headed back to Miki.
So the next day I had to leave Miki and make the drive back up towards Tamba to make a stop at home, and immediately afterwards drive to Taniguchi sensei’s house in Sasayama City, next to Tamba but still 30 minutes away by car. After that we went together to JR Sasayamaguchi Station to catch the train. Our purpose now was to head to an American Football game. (Otherwise known as football. Haha.) And so we did. To watch football in Japan is an odd experience. Granted, coming from a school like Iolani where the football team is also a group of smallish Japanese kids, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but still, even in that case football is a distinctly American game. And so at a dedicated football stadium somewhere in between Takarazuka and Kobe, we watched the Kwansei Gakuin University Fighters face off against the Kobe University Ravens. Kwansei Gakuin (but read in kanji as Kansai Gakuin) is the alma mater of Taniguchi sensei . . . so it’s a good thing they won the game (40 to 10). Afterwards we got Chinese food and made our way back home.
11. Classes and a party!
So starting from that Monday, September 4, classes for the second semester officially began. This meant the beginning of performing my self-introduction lesson about twenty times, but you know, that’s how teaching goes, I guess. First impressions of my school?
1. The teachers are great, extremely welcoming and friendly and I’m sure they will help with any problem I might have.
2. The students are friendly but not so great at or terribly interested in English. But seeing as that is not what they attend this school for, that might be a given.
3. Being as this is a specialized high school, the curriculum is in some ways quite removed from the standard college-preparatory academic school, and the student body is actually remarkably small. I guess somehow I was expecting it to be a little bigger.
Things continued pretty much thusly until Friday night, when a whole bunch of the teachers went out for a huge 宴会 (enkai, or party). Yes, I got to go too. It was held at a local 居酒屋 (izakaya, or . . . izakaya). Reservations had been made so food was all lavishly laid out when we arrived. I would reckon there were about 25 of us there in total, and we ate and drank and made merry. And then the karaoke machine was turned on, and it just got crazy from there. I tell you, watch out for drunk Japanese schoolteachers singing along to words flashing by on a TV screen with the same three background videos playing over and over. Apparently afterwards there was a 二次会 (nijikai, literally two-next-gathering . . . I think you can figure this out), but I was way too tired and opted for a ride home. Nevertheless I am eagerly awaiting for the next opportunity to see my fellow teachers acting anything but seriously.
12. On being productive in Osaka
So that Sunday, I ventured into Osaka to meet Chelsey Yap! (And her friend Kelly who I got to meet that day. She is also from Hawaii and is also studying at Kansai Gaidai right now.) After meeting them at the Keihan Yodoyabashi Station, we walked up Midosuji towards Umeda and basically spent the entire day in the area (Yodobashi Camera, lunch at Hankyu Sanbangai, walking around Hep Five). It started pouring in the afternoon so it wasn’t quite the ideal day for walking around anyway, but it’s always nice to see friends!
Unfortunately, the Gaidai kids had to go home to have dinner with their host families (I miss those days, but anyway.) and so I lingered around in Umeda to get some stuff done while I still had time. Plus I had trekked out all the way to the city anyway, so why not stay a while? So after seeing them off at Yodoyabashi Station, I again made my way up Midosuji to return to Hankyu Umeda station to meet Diana (my predecessor at Hikami) for dinner. We found a place on the basement restaurant floor and ate and chatted, mostly about what I thought of the school so far. After this, she had to leave and so I made my way back over to Yodobashi Camera. After pondering over it all day, I finally decided there was nothing to lose and headed into BB Park, an office space located in a corner of the main building with an entrance from the street, to apply and hopefully sign up for Yahoo! BB broadband internet service. After explaining my situation as a foreigner living in Japan desperately needing in-home internet service to a very friendly man named Takashi (who I suspect was the manager of the place), he helped me to sign up for 50MB 24-hour internet. Glorious, glorious internet. Granted I would have to wait a month to receive it, but here’s the deal: that weekend Yahoo was running a special package in conjunction with Yodobashi Camera whereby those signing up for new internet connections would also have their choice of a PS2 or PSP for 980 yen. As in, less than 10 green ones. And if that’s not good enough for you, your first two months of internet service are free. As in, well, free. So while living in Japan may be quite expensive sometimes, the deals make it oh so sweet. Then I went back over to Kinokuniya in the Hankyu Umeda Station (definitely one of my favorite places in Japan, although Book 1st Umeda, Junkudo Himeji, and Junkudo Sannomiya also rank highly) to exchange a book I had previously bought. This might have turned out to be a challenge. See, buying books in Japan is normally not much of a problem. I put the book on the counter. They tell me the price. I give them money. They put it in a bag. I can leave. Exchanging = not so simple. Fortunately I was able to communicate to the clerk that the first 30 pages or so of the book were missing (i.e., they had simply not been printed into the book), and I had also brought a good copy to the register, so could I please just switch them and take the correct one? [I wait while the clerk looks at the book and figures out what I just said.] [I wait while the clerk calls his manager.] [I wait while the manager also checks the book and confirms what has transpired between me and the clerk.] [I wait while the manager gives me the good copy and apologizes for allowing such a thing to have happened and for having me wait while they were checking the book.] [I say I will take that book and buy another one in addition.] [They are delighted and profusely apologetic.] Then I pay and can leave. Whew. Crisis averted in book world. Anyhow, after this, I headed out and caught a train heading out of JR Osaka Station back towards
inaka home. Through the miracle of real-time e-mail communication via cellular phone, Dylan and I were able to meet up on the train on his way back from a weekend spent surfing on Shikoku. And then we totally enjoyed the (cough) two and a half hour train ride home. I like my car so much better now. Even with its 3-speed automatic and hot 13-inch steel wheels.
So the next weekend was a three-day weekend. Monday September 18 was 敬老の日 (Respect for the Aged Day), and this instantly gave us an excuse for traveling. This week’s destination: 京都, Kyoto, ancient capital of Japan and at the same time home to its most amazing train station. But there were things to be done first. On the night of the previous Friday, Kristine came up to Tamba for the first time. We had plans to go out of town and see some sights with several of my fellow teachers but that got canceled due to weather concerns and now seems indefinitely postponed. Sigh. Either way, I had Kristine come as far as Sasayamaguchi Station, where I then drove to and picked her up. We enjoyed the lovely ride up Route 176 (not 175. 175 goes through Nishiwaki, Kato, Ono, Miki and Akashi. 176 goes through Sasayama and Sanda en route to Amagasaki and Osaka) back to Tamba where we enjoyed a nice dinner at Curry House (thank god there is one nearby me) and some browsing at Tsutaya for new music (thank god there is one nearby me). The next day we rolled out and headed over for a light snack at Mister Donut (thank god there is one nearby me) before heading over to Kaibara. Since we were not traveling as planned, we were able to head over to Kaibara High School, meet Dylan and Heather and catch a bit of the 文化祭 (Cultural Festival) there. This was my first visit to another Japanese high school besides Hikami, and it was at this time that I learned that all Japanese schools are designed the same. Well, at least all gymnasiums are. After realizing that we could use the rest of Saturday to get some traveling and sightseeing in, we left Kaibara, headed back for my place, packed up some things and took the next train out of JR Kuroi Station to Kyoto. And it only took about three hours or so. Whee. Good thing we’re never doing that again. Once in Kyoto, we had dinner at a nice little ramen shop south of the station and discovered a Uniqlo, which meant it was also our final stop of the night. For whatever reason though, it seems we may have been meant to go there, as we ran into fellow Hawaii JETs Wendy and Melissa, who are both living in Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku and were visiting Kyoto together for the long weekend. So afterwards we all had drinks at Kyoto Tower Starbucks and caught up on respective living and working situations. After we parted, Kristine and I were left to wander around and try to find lodging. Eventually we found a place on Kujo and settled in for the night.
The next day we started by heading to Kyoto Station and getting 2-day free passes (unlimited use on all city buses and subways). We immediately got on a bus and headed north to partake in the wonder that is the Kinkakuji (金閣寺、Temple of the Golden Pavilion). Though having been restored ten bajillion times, it is still an amazing thing to see, and so I will let pictures speak for me.
From here, we got back on the bus and traveled over to the land of craziness that is the commerce capital of Kyoto, Shijo Kawaramachi. We browsed around a bit and had lunch underground below Sanjo before trekking our way out to Kiyomizudera where we would also be meeting Heather and Dylan.
After getting a snack of シャカシャカ fries at Wendy’s, we figured out our plan to head over to the best restaurant in the world. And some walking and a bus ride later, we arrived at Jumbo Okonomiyaki.
And then we headed back towards the city center and spent a couple hours trying to find lodging. We did. Eventually. Anyhow, on Sunday, Heather and Dylan had some business to take care of elsewhere in Kyoto and so we parted ways and Kristine and I headed for 二条城 (Nijo Castle), built by Tokugawa Ieyasu as the Kyoto residence of the Tokugawa shoguns and home of the famous nightingale floors.
Afterwards, we headed back up for Shijo Kawaramachi and browsed a little around the Teramachi and Shinkyogoku shopping streets before walking back up Shijo to meet a boatload of people for dinner. The destination: Gyuzen, a 食べ放題 (all-you-can-eat) sukiyaki restaurant. Yay!
From here, we headed back to Kyoto Station and took an outbound train back towards
inaka home. Apparently I won the Longest Train Ride Award, with my three-hour ride back to JR Kuroi. Oi indeed. >.< And then it was back to a week of class.
Pictures to all of the above can be seen here. My original plan was to imbed all the pictures throughout the text, but that plan failed, so here is a link to my online photo album of the weekend.
Amazingly, the next week was also not a full week of school. (Will there ever be one? It remains to be seen.) Instead, the entire school was completing preparations to stage the annual 体育大会 (taiiku taikai, body-raise-big-meeting or Sports Day in normal English). This meant we had no class at all on Thursday, as the field had to be set up and rehearsals had to be done for the event. Friday was the actual Sports Day, full of foot races, tug-of-war, and award-giving. It also included a sweet-looking bento compliments of the school and me in an awesome new track suit. There was also a big party after school at a nearby izakaya. Even 校長先生 (the principal) and 教頭先生 (the vice-principal) were there. Big party indeed. I was there from 6 to 11, was taken home, and promptly proceeded to crash for the night.
Pictures are here
So the next day, a Saturday, marked an early start for me and another drive from Tamba to Miki. The purpose: Miki Higashi High School’s Cultural Festival. Of course I would have to make an appearance, being together with the school’s ALT and all. So I think that as a typical display of a Cultural Festival, there included food booths, club project displays (such as Kristine’s ikebana arrangement), musical and dramatic performances, and a live radio interview of Kristine sensei! Anyway, it was fun! Pictures:
Afterwards we explored Miki a bit, had a fancy Italian dinner and returned to settle in for the night and enjoy the 電車男DXスペシャル. Cause who doesn’t love 電車 and エルメス? (Especially エルメス.) The next day we headed to Kobe and in our dead tired state walked a lot around Sannomiya and Motomachi and eventually found dinner in the Harborland area. . . at an Italian restaurant. Ha . . . ha. And then the next day I returned to Tamba and my weekday alter-ego as a teacher at Hikami High School.
So the next weekend I was in Miki yet again! But this time for the time-honored tradition of getting drunk and singing silly songs in front of people you don’t know, of course more elegantly known as karaoke. We were there until about 1. And then we stumbled over to a ramen place on the way back. And then the next day I couldn’t really do anything. But then on Sunday we went to Osaka and that somewhat made up for things. We explored the 心斎橋 (Shinsaibashi) and 難波 (Namba) shopping/entertainment districts and stayed out pretty late. On Monday I returned to Tamba for another rousing week of classes with my lovely students.
In another couple of days, it was already the 4th of October, and my twenty-second birthday. My second in Japan, hooray! Unfortunately, as has been the case in recent years, my birthday has fallen on a weekday. This week was a Wednesday . . . the very middle of the week. Not knowing what to do but somehow internally convinced that it should be celebrated (even just a little), I somehow managed to cancel my community center English class (more on this later?), leave school almost precisely at 4, drive over to JR Sasayamaguchi Station where I left my Corolla II in the handy car park, and caught an outbound express towards Sanda. Having arrived at JR Sanda Station, I had to find my way in the rain to find the Shintetsu line to go out to the Woody Town mall area where I was to meet Kristine. Fortunately our timing was awesome and I was sitting on the train when I saw someone who looked like Kristine get on the same train. Good thing it turned out to be Kristine! And good thing she got into the right train car! So we got to Woody Town, and despite the cold and rain, went to the mall and had a nice dinner and movie night. We ended up seeing 涙そうそう, a sad nostalgic-type family-love story and had dinner in the mall with two nice mini-kaiseki dishes. And by the time we finished all of this, it was time to head home. Luckily the rain stopped but of course we had to catch trains in opposite directions. It was a great day though!
18. Festival, Castle, Aquarium
[Bonus points if you understand the inspiration for this chapter heading.]
So in another couple days I was back in Miki, ready to enjoy yet another three-day weekend, thanks to the awesome and well-timed placement of 体育の日 (Sports Day). So here’s how it went down, summary-style:
Saturday: Late start, explored around Miki in the morning and early afternoon, came back to Kristine’s house, and then rode the train for two stops to 三木上の丸駅 (Miki Uenomaru Station) to go to the big town festival since there was no chance of finding parking anywhere. Got to see about six different groups carrying their omikoshi (portable shrines) up a huge staircase to the main temple in town called 大宮八幡宮 (Omiya Hachimangu) and got to eat lots of festival food and hang out with Miki JETs. Yay. Afterwards we got a real dinner at Gusto and enjoyed the local Japanese custom of going to a ファミレス (family restaurant) to eat for twenty minutes and then hang out and take up space for an hour.
Sunday: Slept in and got another late start. Headed out around lunch time towards 姫路 (Himeji; Note: Please only read the first two paragraphs. It gets pretty bad from there.) to see 白鷺城 (Shirasagi Castle, more commonly referred to by its standard name 姫路城 or Himeji Castle) for the first time. Ironically it is one of the few places I intended to go while I was at Kansai Gaidai . . . and I never actually made it there. Having now been there, it is definitely on the short list of my favorite places to go in Japan (not that I have seen much of Japan, but I am working on it!). Afterwards we explored downtown Himeji (basically the area between the castle and the station) and after dinner at the station discovered Himeji’s 淳久堂 （Junkudo, one of the large national bookstore chains) and browsed our hearts out. Even though the bookstore took up only one floor of the station building, it was a massive floor at that, and we were physically unable to see the entire bookstore before we had to leave. Revisiting Himeji Junkudo is now on my to-do list for the near future.
Monday: Got up early! (An amazing feat for us.) Headed out to 大阪港 (Osaka Bay Area) to take Kristine to the 海遊館 (Kaiyukan, the Osaka Aquarium) and see the 天保山 (Tenpozan) Area, which is basically the part of Osaka near the bay which includes the Aquarium, and 南港 (Nanko Island), a man-made island opposite the bay which includes the Osaka World Trade Center, the Asia-Pacific Trade Center (don’t let the name of this one fool you, it is basically just a gigantic shopping mall), and sprawling residential development which was definitely not to be seen the last time I was there, about two years ago. Afterwards we headed back to Umeda and had dinner in the Hankyu complex and enjoyed more literary delights at Kinokuniya. We left Osaka around 10 and got back in pretty late.
So during the next weekend, I went down to Miki on Friday night to get Kristine, have dinner, and then come back up to Tamba for us to have a relaxing weekend about town. And not like gas costs 5 dollars a gallon or anything. But oh well. On Saturday, we spent most of our time walking around the major (by major, I mean only) two malls in Tamba, both about a block away from each other. One is コモ－レ (Comore? I have no idea what this means, if indeed it does mean anything at all), and the other, larger, more important one is called youme town (literally you and me town, but written and spoken in Japanese as ゆめタウン, “dream town” . . . quite interesting once you wrap your mind around the initial linguistic complexity). Perhaps one day I’ll even transcribe here the youme town official theme song. Our festivities were capped off with another great dinner at Curry House. The next day, we were back at youme town once again. Afterwards I got some cleaning and such done at home and then we were off back to Miki. And then I turned around and came back to Tamba.
So the week afterwards was midterm examination week, and for the life of me I could not figure out how this worked out. The Japanese school calendar begins in April and ends in March. The second semester starts on September 1, which I now know from experience, so if the second semester lasts from September to March, the midterm examinations cannot possibly fall in the middle of October. BUT, instead of grappling with this scheduling dilemma where the only likely outcome was a bad headache, I merely sat back and contented myself to enjoy the four days of work without any classes. Instead I used the time to work out my lesson for the community English class I teach and plan for our next weekend’s trip to Kyoto, which I shall discuss momentarily.
Momentarily shall be the next segment, as this is already way too long.